FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Year B : 6 May 2012
The spies sent from the desert by Moses to check
out Palestine reported back that, amongst other
things, the soil was suitable for cultivating
grapes. Wine was plentiful and available throughout
the year whereas water was scarce and milk turned
sour. Furthermore, vines can produce fruit on
relatively poor soil. It is little wonder then
that we should find Israel described as a vine
in the Old Testament [Jeremiah 2,21; Ezekiel
19,10-14; Isaiah 27,2; Psalm 80/81,18]. Pruning
is essential to keep the spreading bush under
control, to ensure the plant does not waste
energy on too many shoots, to maintain a balance
between the foliage necessary for photosynthesis
to take place while at the same time allowing
the sun to reach the grapes, to permit good
air circulation, to remove clusters of small,
green, early grapes for the benefit of the final
crop; all so that the grapes will mature properly.
Vines produce grapes on shoots trained from
the previous season’s wood. Vine dressing calls
for skill and experience. The Old Testament
suggests that the vine (Israel) needed a lot
of care and attention, as had been promised
under the Covenant between God and his people.
The people proved unfaithful, so a new covenant
was promised: “The time is coming when I will
make a new covenant with Israel and Judah. It
will not be like the covenant I made with their
forefathers” [Jeremiah 31,31].
In calling himself the true vine Jesus announces
the new covenant in his own person because he
is the one who knows the Father. He is the one
who lives with total confidence in the Father
and, as the main stock of the vine, he gives
life to the branches joined on to him. Notice
how often he uses the word ‘remain’.
Pruning is a painful process, but it is only
the fruitful branch that is pruned. The useless
branch is cut away, withers and is burnt. This
is just the fact of what happens to dead wood.
It is not to be taken as a statement about hell
fire. The prospect of the separated branch withering
away, lifeless, is a more serious matter. The
Word, what God tells us in Jesus, is what prunes:
“If my words remain in you”, “Live in me as
I live in you” and you will live according to
‘the new and eternal covenant’. Trying to put
my Word into practice where you live may not
be simple, but will make you the bearer of much
fruit, that which will affect those around you.
It might seem that Jesus is claiming superiority
when he says: “I am the vine; my Father is the
vine dresser”, but the branches need both to
bear fruit that is worth gathering.
• The image of the vine and its branches in
St John is similar to St Paul writing about
the ‘Body of Christ’, in which we belong together
and depend on each other. In both, the relationship
between Christ and us and that between us is
what gives life or does not give life. If I
do not bring life, what do I bring? Can I lead
others to wither?
• “Make your home in me”.
Other translations have: “Abide in me” or “Live
in me as I live in you”. Jesus in the Eucharist
is central to the ‘new and eternal covenant’,
as the words of Consecration put it, and central
to how ‘he remains in me and me in him’.
• Is ‘being pruned’ another
way of suggesting that the cross follows on
from trying to put the Word into practice; as
a result, the cross is built into life and into
each person’s vocation, whether it be growing
up within the family, or trying to adjust to
living with someone in marriage, or dealing
with unreasonable customers, or wrestling with
financial choices that will affect others, or
coping with the daily grind? If that is the
case, are many of the crosses of daily living
to be seen as opportunity rather than as evidence
• What fruit would I consider
to be evidence of a life ‘that remains in Christ’?